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The Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier Airport is the first to implement PIK systems.[Photo © Elizabeth Keith]

On Mar. 17, Primary Inspection Kiosks, or PIKs, were placed in the Ottawa Maconald-Cartier airport as an initiative to increase security measures and decrease traveller wait times upon arrival in Canada.

The introduction of the kiosks was one recommendation to airports put forth by an Air Traveller Mandate in 2013, according to a press release by Canadian Border Services Agency.

The implementation of PIK at the Ottawa airport is the first step to unify security systems in airports across the country, and they will gradually replace the Automated Border Clearance program kiosks currently in place in some airports.

PIK systems will increase efficiency at Canada's borders. [Photo © Elizabeth Keith]

PIK systems will increase efficiency at Canada’s borders. [Photo © Elizabeth Keith]

What is it?

The PIK is a self-serve kiosk that allows incoming travellers to enter their border declaration information.

The kiosk and the accompanying “CanBorder-eDeclaration” mobile app will replace the E311 paper border declaration card currently being used in many airports.

Phasing out declaration cards will reduce paper waste and eliminate the costs associated with printing, scanning and retaining the forms on file, says CBSA media spokesperson Nicholas Dorion. However, passengers must still print a receipt from the kiosk verifying there are now directed to the kiosks upon arrival. The machine also scans their passports and takes the traveller’s photo using a facial recognition scanner. Once the information has been entered in the system, the PIK prints a receipt for the traveller to confirm their entry into the country.

Graphic by Kevin MacDonald

Graphic by Kevin MacDonald

Why switch to automated machines?

“Self-serve processing allows for more efficiency by allowing more passengers to complete administrative functions at the same time,” says Erin Kennedy, the manager of external communications at Greater Toronto Airports Authority. She adds, “this allows staff resources to be used judiciously for functions that require more interaction.”

Toronto’s Pearson is one of the airports next on the list to get the kiosks, with plans to have them installed in the fall.

Dorion says the implementation of the kiosks will not reduce the number of border services officers currently employed in airports. In an email he says, “they will be redeployed within the service area to ensure timely processing of travellers.”

Jean-Pierre Fortin worries this is not the case. The president of the Customs and Immigration Union has concerns the implementation of the machines means CBSA will be able to decrease the number of officers employed. “Obviously it is a major concern for members because even though the CBSA keeps saying that these machines are not going to replace our officers, we’re concerned that they will go in the opposite direction,” he says.

Who can use the kiosks?

The new kiosks are available for most international air travellers arriving at the Ottawa airport. Unaccompanied minors, diplomats and travellers without machine-readable documents will need to have their documents processed in person by a border services officer.

CanBorder-eDeclaration App

In order to speed up the on-screen process, travellers have the option of filling out their information using the CanBorder-eDeclaration app before arriving at a kiosk.

Once is the app is downloaded onto a mobile device it operates in airplane mode in flight. The completed declaration form, labelled “my declaration” on the app, will generate a quick response, or QR code. The QR code generated by the app scans at the kiosk and then all the passenger has to do is take a photo and scan their document before receiving their receipt.

Travellers can now download the the mobile CanBorder-eDeclaration app. [Photo © Elizabeth Keith]

Travellers can now download the the mobile CanBorder-eDeclaration app. [Photo © Elizabeth Keith]

According to the CBSA website, the app itself operates without any connection to CBSA systems. Declarations on the app are deleted after 24 hours or can be manually deleted at any time.

Added Security Measures

Dorion says the kiosks provide additional security measures to help improve border security.

For example, the kiosks are able to conduct ICAO Public Key Directory ePassport validation, as well as automated security feature validation for non-ePassports. This validation will confirm the document has not been tampered with, or reported lost or stolen. This system is the same one the border officers use when checking passports currently, says Fortin.

The facial recognition and authentication performed by the kiosk will compare the kiosk photo with the photo stored in the traveller’s ePassport chip, confirming the photos match with the person to whom the document was issued.

The receipt that gets printed at the end of the process will visually be linked to their declaration as they move through to the CBSA service area.

“No information is retained on the kiosk,” Dorion says. “A traveller’s declaration and a copy of the kiosk receipt are the only information retained securely on CBSA systems, in accordance with government information, privacy and security policies.”

Although implementing these kiosks are seen by CBSA as a step towards digitizing air travel in Canada, they are not always the best option. Justin Phy was the principal investigator of a report entitled, “Implementing Integrated Self-Service at Airports” published by the Airport Cooperative Research Program, or ACRP, in 2016. The ACRP report provides guidelines for implementing self-service kiosks in airports across the United States.

Based on the findings of his report, Phy would not recommend them for all airports. In an email he says there needs to be an evaluation of the needs of an airport before implementing them. “That is not to say that self-service kiosks may not provide value at some airports, but rather that a thorough understanding of the particular airport’s unique characteristics and perspectives is required,” Phy says. When kiosks are not set up effectively they can be underutilized, or create extra congestion.

Fortin says these machines are actually decreasing the security measures in place at airports. “A machine cannot think like a human being,” he says. “The sole purpose of (the machines) is to speed up the process of customs. And it’s being done at the expense of the security.”

These machines also remove the customer service aspect of entering a country.

“Our solution would be to hire more officers,” he said. “That would increase the security, and … make sure the travellers are having a better experience than talking with a machine,” says Fortin.

The other kiosk systems are expected to be in place by the end of 2018.

Journalism student at Carleton University.

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